|Bruce Peek, M.D. '82|
After graduating from New York Medical College (NYMC) in 1982, Bruce Peek, M.D., helped redefine interventional cardiology when, in 2002, he opened the second point-of-service interventional cardiology center in the United States. Although its establishment initially yielded controversy for offering interventional cardiology care without any bypass surgeons at the ready, today this medical center in Cottonwood, Arizona, is largely considered a medical necessity. Now retired from medical practice, Dr. Peek has switched gears from providing patient-centered care as a physician to promoting humanism in medicine, particularly concerning end-of-life care.
Here, Dr. Peek discusses what inspired him to pursue interventional cardiology and why he believes teaching medical students the importance of humanism is the future of best-in-class medical care.
What inspired you to pursue interventional cardiology?
I liked the human aspect of medicine; I wanted to have a career in which I could talk with my patients at the level of an expert and leave them with the ability to make better choices. Dealing with patients always was important to me. Along with that, I loved doing intricate work with my hands. Interventional cardiology fit all of those aspects nicely.
Why did you open a point-of-service center?
Up until the time we decided to open our center, there was a requirement to have a bypass surgeon available at medical centers in case of an emergency. In northern Arizona, that meant that many heart attack patients had to travel a distance to get to a hospital. To solve this, my associate and I started the second interventional cardiology program without an available bypass surgeon. We received plenty of criticism, but our first failed case happened after we had seen 1,000 patients— and having a failure rate of 0.1 percent demonstrated the value of the program. It is remarkable to me that point-of-service care (whether or not there is a bypass surgeon available) is the standard of care across America today.
Tell us about your drive to bring a greater focus on humanism to the medical profession—starting with today’s medical students.
My goal right now is promoting humanism and bringing that into the fold of medicine. Here in Arizona, I’ve worked with a program called Thoughtful Discussions, a program that promotes humanism and teaches doctors to be better equipped to talk about end of life care. We automatically assume that doctors know how to talk to a patient about end of life care, but many do not. This program teaches health care providers how to have these discussions without simply offering the next procedure. There’s always another procedure down the line, especially in cardiology, but sometimes we need to simply help patients at the end of their lives.
In the future, I want to continue my work in humanism. I’m hoping to be able to work with students at NYMC. Sometimes, we get locked into that technical aspect; we have to break out of it and look at other options.
Do you have any advice for medical students?
Above all else, you have to love what you do. When I started my career, I realized that my professional career took precedence over my personal relationships. If you’re on-call, you can’t just say, “I’ll see him tomorrow when I get in.” You have to be available to go in, because the patients’ lives depend on you.
The second piece of advice is trying to find a life mate who understands what you do. I’ve been married more than 40 years and have two great kids. It was important that my wife was a part of the journey from the very beginning. As a result of my job and lifestyle, my kids have also have learned the importance of adjusting to life’s curves rather than adhering to strict schedules. If students can accomplish those two things – loving their job and having a supportive family structure – they’re going to do well.